Pro-ceasefire demonstrations in Washington on Monday included 18 Jewish elders arrested at the White House gate and around 40 activists arrested at the Senate.
On a cold December day, 11 December, nearly 20 Jewish elders chained themselves to the gate of the White House to protest the United States’ support for Israel’s war in Gaza and to demand a ceasefire, leading to their arrests.
The group of Jewish women, all in their sixties, seventies and eighties, who travelled to Washington, DC, from different parts of the US, were part of a planned public disruption organised by Jewish Voice for Peace.
After being chained around their waists to the gate, the 18 women put on matching T-shirts calling for a ceasefire, they held up a sign that read: “Jewish elders to Biden: Stop the genocide. Ceasefire now.” The number 18 is significant in Hebrew because it’s the same word for life.
As they sat together in the cold, they sang songs and read out loud the names of Gazans over the age of 60 who have been killed by Israel since 7 October. The protesters wanted to pay tribute to the lives of elders lost in the conflict and to show that the ceasefire movement, which has largely been covered in the media as youth-driven, also includes seniors.
After sitting chained to the White House gate for more than an hour, the protesters were cut from their locks and arrested. They were, however, released immediately after being ticketed, likely in recognition of their status as seniors.
“That would’ve looked really bad. We have to use what we have,” Esther Farmer, 72, a New York-based dramaturge, told The New Arab. “We’re here to say: Not in our name. We won’t stop until they stop.”
She said, “For so many Jews, the history of the Holocaust is generational trauma. It’s also true to Palestinians. If everyone is not safe, then no one is safe.”
Farmer, whose father was born in Palestine prior to the founding of Israel when the historic Jewish community was less than 10 per cent, describes herself as a Palestinian Jew. For her, finding anti-Zionist Jews has been a way to connect with her heritage and values.
Penny Rosenwasser, 74, a founding member of JVP who travelled to California for the protest, described the demonstration as sombre but also inspiring. As they read the names of the deceased seniors from Gaza, saying after each one, “May their memory be a blessing,” she was heartened to hear passersby repeating the words.
“My grandfather came from a shtetl in Poland. He would have wanted me to be there. He came to this country wanting a better life. He would not want Israel doing this in the name of Jews,” she told TNA.
As the JVP demonstration was underway in front of the White House, other ceasefire demonstrations were taking place on Capitol Hill on a day billed as the Global Strike for Palestine.
At the Hart Senate Office Building, around 40 pro-ceasefire activists were arrested as they protested the advancement of US$14.3 billion in supplemental military funding for Israel. The protest was attended by a coalition of around 100 activists from different backgrounds.
“We want to link struggles. The bill also includes money for the border wall,” Ramah Kudaimi, campaign director of the Crescendo Project with the Action Center on Race and the Economy, told TNA. “It’s a moment for us to push collectively with a coalition of groups committed to the liberation of all people.”
Also in Washington, DC on Monday, at a holiday party held by Vice President Kamala Harris, Madinah Wilson-Anton, a state representative from Delaware, took the opportunity as an invited guest to bring up the predicament of the Palestinians during the holidays.
“We have witnessed the Biden-Harris administration’s unconditional support for this genocide in Gaza. While many Americans are buying holiday gifts for their children, our taxpayer dollars are being used to murder the children of Gaza,” Wilson-Anton said in a public statement.
“It’s especially disheartening to see our President and Vice President support this indiscriminate violence during a holiday season that should be marked by joy and peace,” she said.
Also, on Capitol Hill Monday evening, hundreds gathered at Freedom Plaza to hold a candlelight vigil for those who have lost their lives in the conflict.